Wonkbook: Inside Biden’s gun-control agenda

January 11, 2013

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 106. That's the number of "Accountable Care Organizations" which were approved by the federal Medicare agency on Thursday. The organizations are a cost-control mechanism, one which is now being used by 4 million seniors, according to a story by Sam Baker in The Hill. It's one of the major reforms of the Affordable Care Act, and Thursday's approvals show that its implementation is moving forward.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: What is Congress is less popular than? Lice, Nickelback, and colonoscopies.


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting on curbing gun violence at the White House on Jan. 10. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Today in Wonkbook: Biden thinking of universal background checks; who'll be in Obama's next Cabinet, and who is leaving; why the Federal Reserve just made $89 billion in profits; what do we still need to do on deficit reduction?; the long-term unemployed are finding jobs; the World Bank wants to talk about climate change; and obesity, lack of health insurance explain low American life expectancy. 

Top story: Inside Biden's gun-control agenda

What Biden wants to do on gun control. "Vice President Biden said Thursday he sees an emerging consensus around 'universal background checks' for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines as he completes the Obama administration’s broad study of ways to curb the nation’s gun violence...The consensus Biden described is among gun-control advocates and law enforcement officials with whom he has been meeting for the past week...Biden said that, going into Thursday’s meetings, the group has heard repeatedly about the need to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. He said proposals would go beyond closing a loophole that exempts some private firearms sales, such as at gun shows, from background checks." Philip Rucker and William Branigin in The Washington Post.

@davidfrum: People say "gun control can't stop mass shootings." Except in every other country in the developed world.

Biden also wants to re-open research funding on gun violence. "When Vice President Joseph R. Biden offered an update Thursday about recommendations he is preparing for President Obama to help combat gun violence, he alluded to an issue that few people know about outside of a small academic community: barriers to federal financing of research into firearms...Ever since, the C.D.C. has shied away from financing research focused on firearms, and firearms researchers say that the amount of money available for this work has dwindled to a fraction of what it used to be." Michael Luo in The New York Times.

@justinwolfers: We could do more to fix gun violence if the federal govt didn't restrict research on gun violence.

White House considering funding policemen in schools. "The Obama administration is considering funding many more police officers in public schools to secure campuses, a leading Democratic senator said...The school safety initiative, one of several under consideration, would make federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

@peterbakernyt: No surprise, but Biden and NRA didn't make peace at today's mtg. NRA "disappointed" and "will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed"

And here's what the Governor of Colorado -- the state of the Aurora and Columbine shootings -- had to say about gun control. "Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado called Thursday for universal background checks on all gun sales in the state...In recent weeks, the governor has proposed significant changes to the state’s mental health system, including new mental health centers, a new statewide crisis line and a plan to make mental health records easily available for background checks of potential gun owners. He has also implored lawmakers to begin tackling the debate over gun control." Jack Healy in The New York Times.

Explainer: 5 senators to watch on the gun control debate.

STRASSEL: The real gun control consensus. "There is one issue on which Congress still resoundingly agrees: gun rights. Bear that in mind, too, the next time you read a story about the 'new' political debate over gun control. An almost cosmic disconnect has been building in the political sphere since the tragedy of Sandy Hook. On the one side is the gun-control community, which sniffed a rare political opening and is determined to use it to the max." Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal.

NOONAN: No, Republicans should think about moderation on gun control. "Republicans make too much of order and discipline. Sometimes a little anarchy is a good thing, a little disorder a sign of creativity and independence of thought. If there are voices within the GOP that are for some part or parts of gun reform it would be good for them—and for the party—to come forward now. I love the Second Amendment and I'm not kidding, but I have to say tens of millions of assault weapons in the hands of gangbangers and unstable young men couldn't be what the Founders had in mind. We need a little moderation here, a little give." Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Franz Schubert, "Swan Songs, D 957, No. 4."

Top op-eds

SMITH: Use the Cabinet. It's not just furniture. "Every our years the cabinet briefly becomes the focus of national attention in December and January — only to fade from view again after Inauguration Day. True, individual cabinet secretaries will be in the news from time to time, but the cabinet as an institution will be all but forgotten. Yet the United States could benefit greatly by strengthening its scope and role." Raymond A. Smith in The New York Times.

JOHNSON: Betrayed by Basel. "The fundamental assumption of modern bank regulation is that nations need to coordinate, and they negotiate the relevant international standards in the Swiss city of Basel, home to the Bank for International Settlements, under whose auspices such negotiations are held...This week the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, as it is known, let us down – once again. Faced with renewed pressure from the international banking lobby, these officials caved in, as they did so many times in the period leading to the crisis of 2007-8. As a result, our financial system took a major step toward becoming more dangerous." Simon Johnson in The New York Times.

SHILLER: Let's talk about an 'inclusive economy.' "Formulating a good metaphor for Obama’s second term is itself a task for intuitive creative thought that entails rethinking what he will propose in his second term. A good metaphor might embody the idea of an “inclusive economy.” The word “inclusive” resonates strongly: Americans do not want more government per se; rather, they want the government to get more people involved in the market economy. Opinion polls show that, above all, what Americans want are jobs – the beginning of inclusion." Robert J. Shiller in Project Syndicate.

RIVKIN AND CASEY: What the law says on the debt ceiling. "[T]he real issue in the debt-ceiling debate becomes clear: the proper level of federal spending. Should Congress fail to increase the debt ceiling as much as the president wants, the effective result would be major government spending cuts, with payments on public debt excluded. This is tough medicine and not to be administered lightly." David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey in The Wall Street Journal.

KLEIN: Don't mint the platinum coin. "The platinum coin is an attempt to delay a reckoning that we unfortunately need to have. It takes a debate that will properly focus on the GOP’s reckless threat to force the United States into default and refocuses it on a seemingly absurd power grab by the executive branch. It is of no solace that many of the intuitive arguments against the platinum coin can be calmly rebutted. It’s the wrong debate to be having." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

KRUGMAN: Coins against crazies. "[W]ouldn’t the coin trick be undignified? Yes, it would — but better to look slightly silly than to let a financial and Constitutional crisis explode...Unless this last possibility materializes, however, it’s the president’s duty to do whatever it takes, no matter how offbeat or silly it may sound, to defuse this hostage situation. Mint that coin!" Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

CARTER: Another reason why to say nay to the platinum coin. "In the first place, it would be illegal. Proponents insist that the language of Title 31 of the United States Code, Section 5112(k), is broad enough to allow the U.S.Treasury secretary to order the coin minted in whatever denomination he chooses...As innumerable critics have pointed out, the purpose of section 5112(k) is to allow the creation of collectors items, not money -- a proposition affirmed by the former member of the House who authored the law, Michael Castle of Delaware. (Alas, there is no formal legislative history.)" Stephen L. Carter in Bloomberg.

YGLESIAS: The immigrant productivity miracle. "Software developers in the United States earn more than software developers in India. A lot more...[A] paper presented by Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development at this year’s American Economic Association conference offers provocative evidence that the main reason is inherently tied to place...[T]he implication is that even as lip service is paid to the desirability of allowing more skilled workers to move to the United States, Americans are wildly underestimating the potential benefits." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

BROOKS: Behavioral psychology for better public policy. "Sometimes the behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue. For example, many of our anti-discrimination policies focus on finding the bad apples who are explicitly prejudiced. In fact, the serious discrimination is implicit, subtle and nearly universal...The research is also leading to new policy approaches. The most famous involve default settings." David Brooks in The New York Times.

Doodly interlude: The Jack Lew signature generator.

Restocking Obama's Cabinet

Obama's second Cabinet: likeminded allies. "The nominations underscore how little time Obama has left to accomplish an enduring governing legacy, and that on-the-job training, political drama and the unpredictability he discovered in some of his outside-the-Beltway nominees last time around have no place in a second-term administration...It is not an uncommon approach for second-term presidents to take. But it leaves Obama vulnerable to criticism, including from his supporters, that he is burrowing deeper into an insular inner circle rather than reaching out for new people and their ideas about how to work most effectively with a sharply divided Congress." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

Two candidates for chief-of-staff job. "For some weeks, then, associates say, Mr. Obama has been considering just two other men to succeed Mr. Lew: Denis R. McDonough, the current deputy national security adviser in the White House, and Ronald A. Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and before that to Al Gore...What is striking, especially at a time when Mr. Obama has come under criticism for the scarcity of women among his top officials, is that both the deputy chiefs of staff to Mr. Lew are well-regarded women and neither seems to have been considered for promotion." Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.

Budget questions for Lew. "President Barack Obama’s nomination of close adviserJacob Lew as the next Treasury secretary elicited little opposition from Republicans Thursday, but many signaled they would use the confirmation process to grill him about the administration’s future tax and spending plans...The confirmation process for Treasury chiefs typically takes six weeks because nominees must fill out lengthy reports and submit scores of tax and other personal data...The timing is important because the Treasury Department already is using emergency steps to avoid default while Congress debates whether to raise the debt ceiling." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Evaluating Geithner's legacy. "Geithner has been among the most important Treasury secretaries in history. Even if he never holds another public job, he has secured a place among the most consequential shapers of economic policy of the 21st century. Geithner took office at an extraordinary time, with an extraordinary assignment...Obama hired him for a very specific task: to stop the bleeding. Geithner was, fundamentally, a crisis fighter, a man who has spent a lifetime wrestling with how to address a financial system in the midst of collapse." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Another assessment: Read The New York Times' Annie Lowrey on Geithner, too: "Mr. Geithner has attained something like a first-among-equals stature at the White House. He is one of the only top-level staff members to have remained throughout Mr. Obama’s first term, and his word and policy judgments have prevailed in fight after fight and negotiation after negotiation."

How did Solis do as Labor Secretary? "The 2009 stimulus bill included $67 billion for unemployment insurance benefits, job training, and other work programs. It was the Department of Labor’s job to oversee that money. So how’d it go? During Solis’s tenure, 1.7 million people completed federal job-training programs." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

Billions in profits from the Federal Reserve

Fed sends profit of $89b to Treasury. "The Federal Reserve said on Thursday that it sent $88.9 billion in profit to the Treasury Department in 2012, a record that reflected the vast expansion of the central bank’s investment portfolio." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

Surprise! Printing money is really profitable! "The profits came about overwhelmingly due to the Fed’s four-year effort to pump money into the U.S. economy by buying longer-term bonds. The $2.7 trillion and counting in Treasury and mortgage-related securities on the Fed’s books all pay a yield, and that interest income is the primary driver of the Federal Reserve system’s revenue—that alone accounted for $80.5 billion. The Fed also earned $6.1 billion from selling off assets acquired as part of the central bank’s financial crisis response, and $450 million in fees for services  provided by reserve banks, such as for clearing checks." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

What do we still need to do on deficit reduction?

CBPP says U.S. needs $1.4T in further deficit reduction. "The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities puts itself somewhere in between, arguing that legislators need about $1.4 trillion more in deficit reduction over the next 10 years to put government spending on a sustainable trajectory. That’s the amount of deficit reduction that we’ll need to achieve a 73 percent debt-to-GDP ratio by 2022, the CBPP calculates in a new paper." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Read: The CBPP report.

Pentagon pulls back, expecting austerity. "Fearing that Congress and the president may not reach a deal on spending and the deficit, the Pentagon’s leadership is freezing civilian hiring, limiting maintenance work and delaying approval of some contracts. The money-saving steps, announced Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, are designed to be reversible should a compromise be reached to avoid automatic reductions in federal spending set to begin in March." Thom Shanker in The New York Times.

The prospects of tax reform don't look good. "This is supposed to be the year that Washington finally locks arms and tidies up the littered Tax Code. Don’t count on it...The highest hurdle to a deal, perhaps, is the fact that Republicans insist that a rewrite of the Tax Code cannot generate more revenue for the federal government — while some Democrats favor a tax overhaul that raises revenue." Jake Sherman and Steven Sloan in Politico.

How to solve the debt ceiling crisis with Monopoly money. "Edward Kleinbard, former chief counsel at the Joint Committee on Taxation and a law professor at USC, outlined another option in the New York Times this morning. Once the debt limit is reached, he argues, the United States shouldn’t acquire more cash by issuing more debt (as in the 14th Amendment option) or by printing more money (as in the platinum coin case) but by issuing IOUs to various creditors." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

How the 'fiscal cliff' deal will slow economic growth. "Washington's last-minute deal on the fiscal cliff left many questions unanswered and will trim about 0.7 percentage point from growth in 2013, according to economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey...The economists expect the economy to expand at a tepid 2.3% pace in 2013, barely above the 2% rate they estimate for growth last year. That isn't fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate quickly. On average, the economists still expect a 7.4% unemployment rate at year-end, compared with the current 7.8%. They don't see unemployment falling below 7% until sometime in 2015." Phil Izzo in The Wall Street Journal.

What business wants from fiscal deals: smaller budget deficit, lower taxes. "The [U.S. Chamber of Commerce] has long stressed that the deficit is principally a problem of spending and entitlements — essentially, the same argument that the GOP is pushing. What’s less clear is whether the chamber would be open to more tax revenue to do the job." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

As long-term unemployed find jobs, is the economy looking up?

Long-term jobless begin to go back to work. "The epidemic of long-term unemployment, one of the most pernicious and persistent challenges bedeviling the U.S. economy, is finally showing signs of easing. The long-term unemployed—those out of work more than six months—made up 39.1% of all job seekers in December, according to the Labor Department, the first time that figure has dropped below 40% in more than three years." Ben Casselman in The Wall Street Journal.

Banks see wiggle room, despite tighter lending rules. "Homeowners got their first big chance to judge the fledgling regulator charged with policing abusive lending after the introduction of a broad set of mortgage rules on Thursday. The regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gets mostly high marks for the policies, which are intended to prevent the practices that fueled the subprime debacle and the foreclosure crisis. But the agency made a few concessions to banks that consumers advocates say could leave borrowers vulnerable." Peter Eavis in The New York Times.

GAO says IRS could boost revenues with more efficient enforcement. "A report last month from the Government Accountability Office said the Internal Revenue Service could increase its collections by 'hundreds of millions of dollars per year' by adjusting the way it does enforcement. The analysis found that some IRS reviews are more efficient and effective than others. For example,'field exams,' which involve face-to-face meetings with taxpayers, cost more than eight times as much as the 'correspondence exams' that do not require such interactions, the report said." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

World Bank puts climate change talk on the table

World Bank to strengthen focus on climate change. "The World Bank’s chief told Bloomberg in an interview published Thursday that he hopes to elevate the international development institution’s climate change role. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who took office in July, said the lender’s November climate change report already has had an effect on its 188 member countries." Zack Colman in The Hill.

Sen. Boxer adds climate-change post to environment committee staff. "Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has added a climate change counsel to her committee staff. Boxer said Thursday that environmental attorney Joe Mendelson would fill the newly created role. Mendelson was most recently policy director of climate and energy with the National Wildlife Federation." Zack Colman in The Hill.

Fight over natural-gas exports heats up. "A Democratic senator lambasted the Energy Department Thursday for a recent analysis that concluded exports of liquefied natural gas would benefit the U.S. His comments came on the same day a group of industrial users of gas banded together to fight against unfettered exports." Keith Johnson in The Wall Street Journal.

USGS finds no water contamination from fracking. "The U.S. government said it found no evidence that shale gas drilling had contaminated water in two Arkansas counties where concerns were raised about the drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled 127 shallow domestic wells in Van Buren and Faulkner counties in the Fayetteville Shale area, where 4,000 wells have been drilled since 2004." Ayesha Rascoe in Reuters.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

Obesity, lack of health insurance cited as causes of low American life expectancy

Why do Americans die young? Obesity and lack of health insurance. "Overeating, lack of health insurance access and comparatively high poverty are among the many reasons why Americans are less healthy and die younger than people in other wealthy countries, a report requested by the U.S. government showed on Wednesday." Susan Heavey in Reuters.

Obama signs Medicare bill. "The legislation changes the way Medicare collects money from people whose negligence caused a patient to incur medical bills. [Rep. Tim] Murphy said the new law will streamline an outdated process, making it easier to close cases and bring money into the Medicare program." Sam Baker in The Hill.

HHS talks up Affordable Care Act cost controls. "Medicare's costs are rising at historically low rates while seniors are getting more benefits, the Health and Human Services Department said in a new report Thursday. HHS said Medicare's spending for each senior rose by just 0.4 percentage points last year — the third straight year with low cost increases. The report credits President Obama's signature healthcare law for the change." Sam Baker in The Hill.

106 new 'accountable care organizations.' "A new program to improve the coordination of healthcare services got a big boost Thursday as the federal Medicare agency approved 106 new Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). ACOs were created under President Obama's healthcare law with the goal of improving quality and lowering costs. As many as 4 million seniors now have access to care through ACOs, the Health and Human Services Department said Thursday." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Adorable animals interlude: Otter pup swim lessons. You can feel the "aww" already.

Et Cetera

Eurozone: Crisis in retreat? Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Believe it or not, California has managed to balance its state budgetAdam Nagourney in The New York Times.

Is the GOP about to derail Sandy aid? Burgess Everett and Jake Sherman in Politico.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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